From the Sidelines
By Mike Stegall
By now, most people have heard there is a shortage of high school officials in all sports. There have been cancellations, delays and other problems due to a lack of qualified football, baseball, softball and other officials. If you go to a high school game you will probably notice that the age of the officials is getting older each year, and that you do not see many younger men or women taking their place. Since high school sports are so big here in Ohio, you would think that there would be plenty of viable, respected, knowledgeable people to do a job that really is a lot of fun and very rewarding. The question we have to ask ourselves now is why are we having so much trouble getting people to help with youth sports?
These are my opinions, but I think there are really two reasons for a lack of officials in high school sports. The first reason is not the top reason, but it is a concern: the pay. For years officials have spent a lot of time and money to go to classes, take tests, buy uniforms, leave work early, and drive to wherever to do a job they absolutely love, and make no mistake, they love it. However, it can be a drain when you are losing time from work, going to meetings, local and state, driving for a while and then having something to eat afterwards, and when you put a pencil to it… you might break even. Since I retired, the pay has gotten much better, but like any business, if you want to keep good employees, you need to pay them and show them respect and you appreciate their efforts. It is not a full time job, but it requires full time attention to be a good official.
Secondly, and most importantly, the biggest reason for lack of officials is a complete lack of civility and respect for them! Nobody likes to feel they are in jeopardy just for trying to let some high school athletes play the sport they love. Parents and coaches now seem to think it is open season on officials because they disagree with decisions they make. I am not suggesting at all that officials don’t make mistakes, we do, and nobody feels worse about it than you. There is nothing worse than having your observer at the end of the game, sit in the locker room and tell you that you screwed up big time a pass interference call, or holding or touchdown or whatever. It hurts, because you know you may have cost a team a win, or a player some grief for something they did or didn’t do. There is only one thing worse: and that is screwing up a rule interpretation during a game. I was fortunate enough to have four other men on my crew, and especially my umpire make sure as I was giving out the options to the offended teams captain, that I got it right. There was one time I said something wrong and immediately Dale Ary, my umpire, corrected it. He was right and because of the teamwork, we never had trouble at games, and we were rewarded with good games every week. Now if an official makes a perceived mistake by the “experts” sitting 25 yards from the field, who have no idea about the rules but think they know, (they don’t) explaining how they know the rules ( they don’t), and know what they are talking about (they don’t!) to everyone around them. Then they start berating and abusing the officials and sometimes it carries over to after the game. THAT IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!
I have talked to younger people about how rewarding officiating is, and it is valuable and rewarding, but most of the time they say they don’t need the abuse. Now, coaches are getting worse and in one case in Columbus, a crew at a game was locked in their locker room by an assistant coach and a few others putting a vending machine in front of their door so they could not get out! Sounds funny doesn’t it,? But what if there had been a fire? What if they couldn’t have been able to move it, or it was blocked with a lock? What about their vehicles being left alone in the parking lot all night? People then wonder why there is a lack of officials? Really? Who wants to put up with that kind of crap every time you have a game? There is no doubt that society has become more volatile since I quit officiating, and a lack of respect for anyone in a position of authority has become more of a target for abuse and in some cases bodily harm. It has to stop. Good people trying to do the right thing and help our youth through sports, need to be respected because not everyone can give the time or effort to do the job. It is fun, and you will make friends of coaches and see great players who will make an impact in college and as pros, sometimes. That in itself is fun to say you knew them when! However, standing on a field, or in a gym having people call you everything but a milk cow, does get old quick. It does make you wonder if it is worth it. It is… to a point.
So if you are one of those people who can sit in the stands and officiate the game better than those on the field, then get off your butt, get certified and show everyone how really good you are! If not, then I respectfully ask you to hold your tongue, encourage the young athletes, and if nothing else, just leave the officials alone. At least leave them alone AFTER THE GAME, no need to make an ass of yourself in the parking lot, yelling at some guy or lady who made a call you disagreed with in the first quarter or half, that you didn’t like. Real classy. Be an ADULT, and role model for younger people, and let it go. Let’s start a movement to show how to be respectful of athletes who goof up (I’ve heard nasty things said about the athletes too!), and officials who are human and make mistakes too. Be a solution to the shortage of the official problem by showing them the respect they deserve. That’s the way I see it, from the sidelines.
Contributing columnist Mike Stegall a 27-year former OHSAA high school football official and current Darke County Commissioner.